Building ‘Men of Character’ Was Conference Focus

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Todd McGowan, who was attending his second Men’s Conference, encouraged four of his brothers from the Knights of Columbus Council 581 at St. Peter and St. Mary of the Assumption parish in Haverstraw to join him at the Nov. 2 event.

They were among the 175 men who participated in the archdiocesan conference with the theme “Men of Character in Today’s World” at SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center.

“I did attend the last one (in 2017) less than six months after my wife died and I came here by myself, unlike today where I have my friends with me,” McGowan told CNY. “It was an unbelievable experience for me.

“I was so happy when I got the email they were going to do this again. I said you guys have to come to this. You’re not going to be disappointed, and you’re going to get a lot out of this.”

The conference speakers were Cardinal Dolan; Joe Sweeney, New York Times best-selling author, international speaker and business consultant; and Ryan Holladay, pastor of Lower Manhattan Community Church.

Deacon Frank Orlando, director of diaconate formation in the archdiocese, delivered the opening prayer and Auxiliary Bishop-elect Edmund Whalen, vicar for clergy, celebrated the closing Mass. Luis Peña, outreach coordinator for the archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry, served as master of ceremonies.

Sweeney delivered a talk on life and the role of reflection in it. He broke life into four stages—being educated, working, retirement and death. In comparing life to the four quarters of a football game, he stressed the importance of reflecting on what’s working and what’s not working, and to make adjustments.

“We all have four quarters in our lives,” Sweeney said. “The better we can reflect and understand that, the more meaning and purpose we can have as we look at this four-quarter game called life. It’s creating a road map and life plan for all of us.”

Sweeney said men had a life expectancy of 47 years 130 years ago, and now most men live for many years after their retirement.

“We’ve been given this gift of (added life) and men don’t know what to do with it,” he said. “It’s a quiet crisis in our country, and quite honestly no one really wants to talk about it. We’ve been so prepared for the first half of our life but there is virtually no training for second half of our life.”

Sweeney told the men to picture themselves at 93 years old in a nursing home after living a successful life, before returning to the present to determine what’s next and take action so they may reflect back with pride when the time comes.

Rafael Brito, 44, was one of the four men who attended the conference with McGowan.

“I made a good decision coming here,” Brito said. “The first speaker (Sweeney) was interesting and almost eye opening with some of the stuff he did say. What if there is more to do than just retire? He’s right. A lot of people just retire and that’s it— they don’t do anything else, I have a lot of thinking of what to do when I come to that time to retire.”

Cardinal Dolan discussed external and internal character and how to restore one or both if it becomes tarnished. He cited Jesus as a model of character, giving six examples such as Jesus always tells the truth, is loyal to friends and is the personification of the saying that something is not worth living for, if it’s not worth dying for.

Cardinal Dolan said God cries and grieves with us when our character is tarnished.

“He can restore (our character),” the cardinal said. “We have a God who is the Divine Restorer. We have a God who from the beginning has wanted to restore the way he intended us to be.”

Sal Sciarra, 54, a parishioner of St. Frances de Chantal in the Bronx who was attending his first Men’s Conference, spoke enthusiastically about Cardinal Dolan’s talk.

“He always has a good message and he’ll make you laugh, cry and think,” he said. “He conveys a good message with humor.”

Rick Martinez, 49, a parishioner of SS. John and Paul in Larchmont, said he appreciates the archdiocese organizing such conferences.

“I wanted to learn more about how I might be able to incorporate the Catholic faith into contemporary living, and my professional and family lives,” said Martinez, a husband and father of three children.

“I think the Men’s Conference is very important. You do get nuggets as how to live out your faith and how your faith allows you to be successful professionally and even in a secular way but still living the faith.

“It’s good to see a lot of people here on a Saturday afternoon and to be with people with the same beliefs.”

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